March 28, 2011

The Evolving CIO: From Financial Compliance Origins to Data Singularity

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Thank you to those who took a moment to comment on my recent blog introducing my new series on the evolving CIO. Several of you agreed that we need to redefine the purpose of the CIO based on the trajectory of our society. In this spirit, an article comes to mind that I was reading in Time Magazine while at the airport several weeks ago. The article is about Robert Kurzweil, a computer scientist and futurist who believes humankind is progressing rapidly toward something he (and others) call the Singularity. The Singularity is the point of convergence at which human and artificial intelligence merge. One of the results of this merger is human immortality, but there are many other fascinating results as well. The Singularity will be reached, according to Kurzweil, in 2045.

I have no way of knowing, of course, if any part of Kurzweil’s science-fiction-sounding hypothesis will come to be or whether it will always remain out on the edge of the imagination. What I do know, however, is that in my professional life, I have been witness to a rapidly increasing interface between technology and human activity. And for me, this interaction defines the role of the modern CIO.

Information technology (IT) shops in the public and private sectors grew out of financial management shops. The financial organizations were basically the stewards of corporate data. They kept the books and the computers helped them with the numbers. The early computers were good with the numbers. Maybe because of this back office connection, the CIO started as a compliance-orientated position. Then the technology boom of the mid to late 90’s came and the CIO morphed into a new technology maven.

But more recently, one idea has struck me over and over, and the discussion of the machine-human interaction in that Time article made me reflect on it again. Computers are gluttons for data. They suck in information in whatever form it exists and store it for instant access. In the process, technology has become the storehouse for all the data that we create on a daily basis—a store that is growing geometrically every day. Now we need to figure out how we get our arms around this data in order to use it to inform the process of “good government” and to inform decisions. .

I recently attended the Interagency Resources Management Conference and the Department of Energy’s Information Management Conference. Both events offered a venue to explore and share the importance of properly managing data necessary to fully transform the way organization’s conduct business. In the context of HUD, transformation is in part about updating our technologies but to be clear it is also about creating venues that will allow us to more effectively and efficient share and use data to inform decision-making. Gleaning useful, productive intelligence from our mounds of data, is central to the modern CIO’s role. When I say “productive” intelligence, I mean data that has been formed into knowledge that helps us make more informed decisions and take more informed actions. It is this productive intelligence that I, as CIO, need to provide to my customers, wherever they are in the organization, whenever they need it, and in the form that they can best use it. I need to be an enabler of their decisions and actions, not just a compliance guy or a technology ambassador.

4 Responses to The Evolving CIO: From Financial Compliance Origins to Data Singularity

  1. When is HUD going to Accept Electronic Signatures?? It’s so hard meeting all the criteria when you get an accepted bid, plus when you have to get your brokers’ signature and often times you are not in the same location, it becomes very difficult, you already require their socials. Would be helpful if electronic signatures were acceptable.

  2. Neurological Disability destroyed memory but increased my logic. Can’t remember it, I can figure it out. OK on computers until Tech Bust. Survived after with menial work but watched job market thinking a lot of people are going to be in trouble. Tech automated away many middle class jobs in ten years. I was into Singularity way before ‘Great Recession’. I was waiting for it to happen (or start).

    We don’t even need the Dow Jones stock traders anymore.

  3. I’m glad to see someone working in the government sector, actually being with the curve for once technically instead of behind. One can only imagine the amount of revenue and pure advantage that can be gained from understanding your data is what’s valuable, not your product.

    If you doubt this, look at facebook’s product and ask yourself, are they valued because of that, or because of the data they sell.

    Nice post.

  4. It’s an interesting concept. But socially I don’t think we are ready for it yet. My gut feeling is that if such intelligence were possible right now it would be used by greedy individuals at the expense of the general public, and would not serve any worthy purpose.

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